Robots create 3D thermal images for firefighting

Engineers in UC San Diego’s Coordinated Robotics Lab have developed new image processing techniques for rapid exploration and characterization of structural fires.  Employing small Segway-like robotic vehicles, an on-board software system combines thermal data recorded by an infrared camera with high-resolution color images to map a 3D scene of a fire location.

Designed to be small, inexpensive, agile and autonomous, the robotic “scouts” create a virtual-reality picture that can be used immediately by first responders as the robot drives through a building on fire.  Data gathered from various sensors also characterize the state of a fire (i.e., temperatures, volatile gases, and structural integrity) while looking for survivors. This near real-time information would allow for better situation assessment and planning for firefighting and rescue activities.  —More information at

Shape-shifting nanoparticles

Targeting treatments to cancerous or other diseased cells depends on some means of accumulating high levels of a drug or other therapeutic agent at a specific site and keeping it there. Most efforts so far depend on matching a piece of a drug-delivering molecule to specific receptors on the surface of target cells.

Scientists at UCSD have taken a different tact by designing tiny spherical particles that float through the bloodstream to the site of diseased tissue where they assemble into a durable scaffold. The ability to create an autonomous material capable of sensing its environment and changing accordingly was accomplished by exploiting a class of molecules called MMP produced by cancerous tissues.

Each nanoparticle is made of detergent-like molecules with one end that mixes readily with water and another that repels it. In solution, they self assemble into balls and in that configuration can be injected into a vein.  In the presence of MMPs, the enzymes nicked the peptides on the surface of the spheres, which reassembled into netlike threads.

The team injected the new nanoparticles into mice with human fibrosarcomas, a cancer that produces high levels of MMPs. Because the nanoparticles contained reactive fluorescent dyes, a light signal is generated when the spheres are in close proximity.  Within a day this telltale light was detected in the mice indicating that the spheres had reassembled at tumor sites. The signal lasted for at least a week.

Nanoparticles could be designed to respond to different molecular signals inherent to other types of cancers and inflamed tissue. The spheres can also be engineered to carry drugs or different diagnostic probes.  Findings are reported in the journal Advanced Materials.  —News release at

Altered neural circuitry may lead to anorexia, bulimia

A new study led by the UCSD School of Medicine suggests that altered function of neural circuitry in the insula – an area of the brain where taste is sensed and integrated with reward to help determine whether an individual hungry or full – contributes to restricted eating in those suffering from anorexia nervosa and overeating in the case of bulimia nervosa.

The study used functional MRI to test neurocircuitry by measuring brain response to sweet tastes in 28 women who had recovered from either anorexia or bulimia. Compared to 14 women who had never experienced either disorder, those recovered from anorexia showed significantly diminished responses in the right anterior insula to the taste of sucrose; those recovered from bulimia had significantly elevated responses. — The findings appear in the American Journal of Psychiatry. News release at

Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.

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Posted by Staff on Jun 13, 2013. Filed under Columns, Editorial Columns, Health & Science, Research Report. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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